Consciousness transfer and bungee jumping
I’ve been reading The Age of Spiritual Machines by Kurzweil, and got to the obligatory section where he pontificates about the philosophical issues behind consciousness copying and transfer. In the process I thought of a nice analogy between one of the practical issues involved and bungee jumping.
Imagine that your brain is scanned and an improved replica of yourself is created. There are now two copies, and for practical reasons (say population control), you only get to keep one. The question is: what do you do with the old body? Is killing it murder?
Naturally, the old body may feel that it is, and refuse to be killed. Solution: fine, you don’t get to keep the new body. In order for the new body to be kept, the old body could be given the task of consciously and voluntarily deciding to be put to sleep. I think this situation is very similar to bungee jumping. In both cases, one is confronted with a situation extremely far outside the norm, one which triggers powerful feelings of fear and danger. However, both are rationally safe (let’s assume we’ve worked the kinks out of consciousness transfer). To bungee jump, you have to lean forward off a cliff.
I’ve only done one of these processes, which for me, felt as follows. I was viscerally extremely scared; I do not like heights. However, I rationally knew that it was safe, and I decided that I was going to trust the process. Once I made this decision, I knew that I would be able to lean off into nothingness.
In the conscious transfer case, you’re awake and staring at this new body. You feel no different after the scan. Viscerally, you know that your body is about to die, taking with it at least the few moments since the scan. Your heart is pounding. Rationally, however, you know that the outcome of the whole process is simply an improved body, just like you knew that the bungee cords generally work. If you accept the rational side despite your fear, you get a new body, otherwise you don’t.
There are some other issues, such as what happens if you wake up the new body first and allow a conversation between the two for verification. Killing the new guy if the old flakes is harsh, but I for one would happily authorize it for the additional comfort of talking to my new self before finalizing the process. Again, this is reducible to concrete practical and legal issues: placing the first few minutes of the new life under the control of the old one, who has to sign a form beforehand. No philosophy required.